It is hard not to feel festive this time of year with all of the shining lights, decorations, and a general feeling of goodwill toward everyone. It is my favorite time of year. I love the brisk—chilly air and broody—moody sky that December brings. I also love Chanukah.
Chanukah is a celebration of oil—lighting it on fire and enjoying the glow and also of frying things in it. What is there not to love? For anyone who thinks that Chanukah is just a child’s holiday, I give you the following.
There is nothing more pleasing than sitting by the soft flickering flames of the chanukia and scarfing down plates of crispy, crunchy fried things. It is customary for Ashkenazi Jews to eat latkes on Chanukah, and who doesn’t like latkes? A properly constructed latke is nothing to trifle with—still, there is a whole world of frying going on out there and we Jews only got eight days to do it. Israelis make sufganiyot, or fried jelly doughnuts; Greek Jews make fritters called loukamades; and Sephardic Jews, originally from Spain and Portugal, make sweet or savory fritters called binuelos. When you think about, the fried possibilities are endless.
There is tempura with its potential for a crispy coating of just about anything; there are all sorts of fritters with batters, doughs and any manner of binding ingredients in an effort to make them… well, fry-able. There are also methods of frying, from pan frying and sautéing to the “fry daddy” of all, deep frying. Then there is the oil itself, really-the cause célèbre for the whole festival. You have your good ole stand-by like peanut oil, but with all the allergies these days you cannot really go that route anymore. You can always go neutral with canola oil, or vegetable oil. But why go neutral when can use a tres chic extra virgin olive oil or an Iron Chef-esque pumpkin seed oil? I hope you are seeing what I see with all of the possibilities of Chanukah. This holiday is the bomb!
I have not even mentioned the ingredients or should I say”fry-ables”? I like to start the holiday with my gourmet or high-end ingredients. I am, after all, a chef and author and I have a reputation to uphold. On the first days on Chanukah, I go with artichokes, heirloom squash, eggplant, fancy mushrooms and local apples. After a few days of pretending to be hoity-toity my frying gets gritty. Have you ever fried gelt? I have! Not bad as long as you remember to remove the foil. I have also gone down the deep-fried pickle, olive, candy bar and marshmallow road. I do not recommend the latter as it messes with the oil.
In short—Chanukah is an eight-day fry fest. Yes, there are lessons to be learned from the holiday and meaning to glean from the story of Chanukah. I, for one, will ponder all of that while crunching and munching on fried goodies. Have a Freylich Chanukah!
TORTELLI DI ZUCCA
These fried purses are filled with pumpkin, rice and cheese. The dough and filling can be made several days ahead of serving. Once the tortelli are assembled, they can be frozen for several months. Before serving, heat your oil to 360, remove the tortelli from the freezer, and fry to a golden brown. Have a Freylich Chanukah and happy frying!
For the pastry
2 cups plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
¼ cup olive oil
1 teaspoon fine sea salt
½ cup ice water
1. Combine the flour, olive oil and salt in the food processor. Pulse several times until the mixture looks like cornmeal. Add the egg and water and process until the dough forms a ball. Remove the dough and knead for several minutes until it forms a smooth-elastic dough. Add a little four if the dough seems sticky.
For the filling
4 leeks, white part only, minced
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 cup canned pumpkin puree
½ cup COOKED Arborio rice or other risotto rice
2 large eggs
1 cup parmesan cheese
Salt and pepper
1. Place a medium sauté pan over medium heat. Lightly coat the bottom of the pan with olive oil. Sweat the leeks until they are very soft and fragrant (about 15 minutes). Add the garlic and continue cooking for 5 more minutes until the garlic is soft. Add the pumpkin puree. Stir to combine. Transfer the mixture to a large bowl and allow to cool completely.
2. Add the rest of the ingredients and mix thoroughly.
Assemble the tortelli
2 cups extra virgin olive oil for frying
Sea salt and parmesan cheese for garnish
1. Using a pasta machine or on a large work surface, roll the dough until it is very thin. Cut the dough into a rectangle about 12 X 20 inches.
2. Scoop walnut-size pieces of filling and position them 1 ½ inches apart. Brush the dough around the filling with the egg mixture. Fold the dough over the filling and crimp with a fork for a decorative edge. Cut the tortelli using a pizza or pasta cutter. You should have 20 tortelli.
3. Heat at least 2 inches of extra virgin olive oil, to 360, in a deep saucepan. Fry the tortelli 3-4 at a time until they are golden brown and puffed (about 5 minutes. Drain on paper towels. Sprinkle with grated parmesan cheese and sea salt.